AFTER THE REMARKABLE EXCHANGE that reinstates Peter, Jesus quietly tells him that this discipleship will someday cost him his life: "When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go" (John 21:18).
If the prediction itself has some ambiguity, by the time John records it here all ambiguities had disappeared: "Jesus said that to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God" (21:19). Tradition has it, probably rightly, that Peter was martyred in Rome, about the same time that Paul was executed, both under the Emperor Nero, in the first half of the 60's.
Peter observes "the disciple whom Jesus loved" — none other than John the evangelist — following them as he and Jesus stroll along the beach (20:20). The designation "the disciple whom Jesus loved" should not be taken to mean that Jesus played a nasty game of arbitrary favorites. Small indications suggest that many people who followed Jesus felt specially loved by him. Thus when Lazarus lay seriously ill, his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus saying, "Lord, the one you love is sick" (11:3). Even after the resurrection and ascension, Jesus' followers have delighted in his love, his personal love for them. Thus Paul needs only to mention Jesus and the cross, and he may burst into spontaneous praise with an additional subordinate clause: "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
In this case, however, there is still something of the old Peter left. Doubtless he was glad to be reinstated, to be charged with feeding Jesus' lambs and sheep (John 21:15-17). On the other hand, the prospect of an ignominious death was less appealing. So when Peter sees John, he asks, "Lord, what about him?" (21:21).
We are in no position to criticize Peter. Most of us are constantly comparing service records. Green is a not uncommon color among ministers of the Gospel. Someone else has it a little easier, so we can explain away his or her superior fruitfulness. Their kids turn out better, their church is a little more prosperous, their evangelism more effective. Alternatively, we achieve a certain amount of "success" and find ourselves looking over our shoulders at those coming behind, making snide remarks about those who will soon displace us. But after all, they've had more advantages than we, haven't they?
It is all so pathetic, so self-focused, so sinful. Jesus tells Peter, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (21:22). The diversity of gifts and graces is enormous; the only Master we must please is Jesus.
Leviticus 2-3; John 21; Proverbs 18; Colossians 1